DESIGNER HOTELS OFFER IN STYLE
On a recent Tuesday evening in New York, a lone
guest sat waiting in the lobby of Morgans Hotel. At first glance, the room still
had the stylish sheen that caused a stir when Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell,
owners of the original Studio 54, opened the hotel two decades ago. But on
closer inspection, its leather armchairs were dotted with stains and scratches.
The plaster next to the elevator doors was wearing away.
A few blocks away, at the W Court, things were buzzing. “Door ambassadors”
clothed in black whispered into barely visible headsets as a Latin-blues
concoction played in the background. Shiny, sensuous fabrics covered every
surface, all of them suffused in red light.
If you don’t know the history, you’d be hard pressed to say which was the
original design-driven boutique hotel and which was the knockoff by a company
with hundreds of properties worldwide. And that, for guests seeking the very
latest in style, is the problem: design hotels are no longer challenging the
mainstream – they are the mainsteam.
But fear not, elitist designo-holics few hotels in Europe have taken the design
hotel concept to the next level.
Looking back, what got the big players involved? In the ‘80s and ‘90s, consumers
demanded that big chains offer a high level of service everywhere- from
metropolitan hubs to truck stops, said James Anhut, senior vice president of
brand development at Inter Continental Hotel Group. “The industry responded to
that, and as a result-not in a negative way-we’ve got all these wonderful
cookie-cutter hotels,” he said.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide introduced the W brand in 1998 to satisfy
consumers’ growing hunger for accessible style. Since May 2003, LeMErdien has
rolled out its Art + Tech concept, a combination of high design and high
technology, in six hotels on three continents. In October, InterContinental
opened its first Hotel Indigo for midlevel consumers with high-style tastes in
Luxury chains and developers are taking another tack to keep their consumers’
interest: labeling hotels with names from the top echelons of fashion. The
Ritz-Carlton chain, part pf Marriott International, has a Bulgari hotel in
Milan, with another to follow in Bali, and Emaar Properties of Dubai is planning
to open several Armani-branded hotels, and resorts in the next few years.
So what’s next? Hotel Q! opened last April on the Knesebeckstrasse in Berlin,
around the corner from the buzzing Kurfurstendamm, the city’s fashion artery.
The hotel’s blocky, dark gray exterior belies an interior from not just a
different galaxy. In the small lobby of the 72-room hotel, the walls and
counters take on folded forms with rounded corners. Ivory, white, black and red
predominate, with surfaces often back-lighted.
Seven floors up, in a U-shaped studio room, a combination angled wall/dropped
ceiling separates the center of the room from the entry-way and bed area. The
gap in the U is taken up by a fully enclosed toilet and by shower stalls. A
divan upholstered in cream-colored fake ostrich faces a gigantic flat-screen
television. But the piece de resistance is a single folded surface in mocha
veneer that supports a queen bed and, right next to it, a deep soaking tub. A
button on the wall nearby heats the slate floor tiles between the bath and twin
“We got rid if the notion of the wall being a wall, being a single surface,”
said Lars Kruckeberg, a partner at Graft Berlin, the architectural company that
designed the hotel.
The new take required a new way of thinking. Kruckeberg said his company’s aim
was to create “emotionalized spaces” where the distinction between furniture and
its surrounding disappeared. And the softened angels of the room, together with
the choice of dark browns and off-whites, certainly have a comforting effect.
Further tranquility can be obtained in the basement spa, where amber light
swaths tiles walls. The spa has two saunas, a massage room and Japanese bathing
stations complete with silvery bowls and basins set in a low wood bench. In the
spa’s relaxation area is, in essence, a beach transported to a basement,
complete with fine sand and curved red-orange loungers alongside sleek reading
tables and lamps. All in all, it offers a cool calming version of the future.
Not so at Straf, a hotel poised behind a distinguished stone façade, just steps
from Milan’s Duomo on the Via San Raffaelle. Dubbed “Stalag Straf” in an online
forum by one guest shortly after its opening at the end of 2003, the hotel
offers an approach to design that verges on the postapocalyptic.
The 66-room Straf is not actually a let’s-play-prison hotel or some other social
experiment, but it does push hotel-design tropes to their hardest edges. In the
lobby, every surface seems to have been scraped, from glass layered over torn
gauze to concrete, plaster panels and streaked brass. The main furniture is
blocky, oblong settees in nondescript khaki with built-in lighted tables.
Nothing about Straf is Kitschy or distracting, except perhaps the new-age
devotional music playing in the well-stocked breakfast room. As the execution of
a new theory of the hotel, it is elegant and complete. Still, the overall
feeling is of a very sleek bunker.
Casa Fuster, which opened last August in Barcelona, presents a third route to
innovation in design-driven hotels. The Catalan brand of modernism that arose in
the early 20th century has never fit precisely into the timeline of Western
architecture. Blending it with new ideas, materials and technology provides a
natural way forward.
The hotel sits at the top of the glamorous Passeig de Gracia in a landmark
building from 1908, the work if Lluis Domenech I Montaner, who is better known
for Palau de la Musica.
Catalana. For Nicolas Osuna Garcia, president of the Hoteles Center, the task
was to create a five-star flagship for what had been a four-star chain. At the
same time, he wanted to challenge the Ritz-Carlton as the best hotel in
Barcelona. So he had to do something unique.
The building is not as avantgarde as the Palau, or those of Antonio Gaudi, but a
step inside provides plenty of aesthetic excitement. The original red marble
columns stand on a floor of glittering, iridescent black marble in the irregular
mosaic style called trencadis. Ultramodern floor lamps and hanging lights, some
in the shape of gargantuan upside-down petunians, illuminate the vaulted
There’s no reason to expect that hotel guests will ever be stuck with ordinary,
said Alain Gayot, editor of Gayot Publications, which provides advice to
high-end travelers. “I’m sure that yes, over time, they’re going to come up with
new concepts and keep pushing the end of the envelope, where your room is
hanging on top of a 1,500-foot something-or-other, or in a ballon,” he said “We
can take a look at shoes, or watches or cars. The design constantly evolves, and
there’s always some-thing new.”
Source: Kathmandu Post, April 10, 2005
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